According to the Pew Research Center, the Hispanic population in the US in 2022 reached 63.7 million. Those millions come from different cultural backgrounds, countries and ways of speaking Spanish. However, most of the time, people believe all Hispanic individuals are the same and share the same values. Some also forget the distinction between Latinx (from Latin America) and Hispanic (individuals from Spanish-speaking countries).
Whether the confusion between Latinx and Hispanic continues or people believe all Hispanics are the same, many Hispanic stereotypes have been portrayed on screen, leading to a negative representation of a massive group of people. These stereotypes have been perpetuated for decades, showcasing a side of Hispanics that isn’t entirely true. All stereotypes are based on reality, but that doesn’t mean that is all there is in this community. Luckily, there have been some positive representations, such as the Alvarez family on One Day at a Time and Callie Torres on Grey’s Anatomy, among others.
One of the most prominent Hispanic stereotypes on screen is that all Hispanics in a movie or TV show are represented as criminals or gang members. Many criminal stories told on screen make the “bad guy” or “bad guys” Hispanic. They are the narcos or drug dealers who control one neighborhood, recruit younger people to sell their drugs and fight other gangs for control. They are murderers for hire who kill people for a certain amount of money. Additionally, they are abusers, thieves and all types of criminals that endanger other people’s lives.
This particular stereotype has led many to fear Hispanics because of what they see on screen. These kinds of representations make it seem as if every Hispanic person is capable of the most evil acts and has no other qualities than being mean, abusive and harmful. But that is not the reality of the Hispanic community, and luckily, there have been characters who have played the opposite side of this. Nick Amaro on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Rosa Diaz on Brooklyn Nine-Nine are examples of members of the Hispanic community who have gone the other direction and joined law enforcement to fight these stereotypes.
Another huge Hispanic stereotype is that Hispanics have often been portrayed as the help. They are usually hired to help in a house, cleaning, cooking and doing the chores, but they aren’t regarded as anything other than those actions. Their bosses are mostly portrayed as people who mistreat these individuals or don’t treat them as human beings, simply using them for their labor.
Judy Reyes has played both ends of this stereotype in different circumstances. On Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 13 Episode 3, “Blood Brothers,” she plays Inez Rivera. She was a maid who got fired after having an affair with her boss and getting pregnant. But on the other hand, between 2001 and 2009, she played nurse Carla Espinosa on Scrubs, being head nurse at the hospital. These different characters in Reyes’s filmography prove that Hispanic people can fit in many different categories and do many jobs without falling into one label just because that is where people think they belong.
There is this idea that every Hispanic living in the US crossed the border and came into the country illegally. Although that is the reality for a vast majority, it doesn’t encompass every Hispanic experience. However, because this belief exists, another huge Hispanic stereotype on screen is the idea that Hispanic individuals are uneducated. Many shows and movies have portrayed Hispanics as people who drop out of high school, don’t pursue a college degree and lack knowledge in many areas.
Hispanics in their country of origin and the US have proven this isn’t always the case. On the contrary, many have graduated from college at the top of their class and led extremely successful careers. A great example of this is Gina Torres’s portrayal of Tommy Vega on 9-1-1: Lone Star. Vega is the paramedic captain at Station 126 and is in charge of the rest of the paramedics.
One of the biggest Hispanic stereotypes on screen is that Hispanic people speak broken English or no English. This is rooted in the fact that the Hispanic community represents those people born in Spanish-speaking countries or born to parents from those countries, and Spanish is the first language in their household. Therefore, many Hispanic characters on TV or in movies are portrayed with little to no English knowledge.
The reality is that Hispanics in the US had to adjust to a new reality and to a country where Spanish isn’t the first language. Although it is hard for some to learn and speak English daily, many Hispanics speak English perfectly — some even speak it better than Spanish or have no accent when speaking it. Rafael Barba (Raúl Esparza) on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is an excellent example of this. From the beginning, he has taken pride in his Cuban heritage and spoken English to perfection. He resorts to speaking Spanish when necessary and appropriate but proves that Hispanic individuals do not always speak broken English or lack its understanding.
Most Hispanics you come across will have a sense of pride in their heritage, the people and the country they come from. Those lacking this pride usually do so because of the Hispanic stereotypes on screen. It is challenging to fight the negative representation and the backlash accompanying it. People watching TV and movies believe that every Hispanic is the same; they are uneducated criminals, the help or have no ability to speak English. But the reality is that Hispanics are all different, belong to different career paths, have learned different languages and have built lives for themselves in countries where everything was structured against them.